Gotta know when to hold ’em

cards, leadership, management

I’m on a conference call.
A long conference call.
The discussion is stretching and swirling in a loop.
I can feel my patience growing thin.

Is this normal brainstorming? 
Or part of the creative process?  
Or is this a complete mess?  
Or is my lack of sleep clouding my judgment? 

My mind drifts.
I call up one of my favorite management books: QBQ by John Miller.
John would suggest that I ask the Question Behind the Question?

Why am I amped up?  
What have I done to contribute to the rudderless direction of this call?  

I think about that for a moment.
Nah, can’t be me. Of course not.

I let the debate go on. I listen in silently hoping the solve is coming.

I turn to gnawing on a finger nail.
Aren’t you too old to be biting your finger nails? Disgusting habit.

Mind calls up Leo Babauta’s (Zen Habits) latest post titled: 12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools:

#3: Watch UrgesWhen I quit smoking in 2005, the most useful tool I learned was watching my urges to smoke. I would sit there and watch the urge rise and fall, until it was gone, without acting on it. It taught me that I am not my urges, that I don’t have to act on my urges, and this helped me change all my other habits. Watch your urge to check email or social media, to eat something sweet or fried, to drink alcohol, to watch TV, to be distracted, to procrastinate. These urges will come and go, and you don’t have to act on them.

I stop biting my nail.  I can do this. I don’t need to eat myself.
I think about what body parts cannibals start on first. Toes? Fingers? Or the fatty tissue around belly?

The conversation continues.
The brainstorming takes a turn to finger pointing. Oh Boy.
I click the mute-off button…
And then,
I pull myself back from jumping in to referee.

My stomach growls.
I rummage through my bag looking for a Granola bar.
Need sustenance.
Leo pipes up.  Do you really need that Granola bar?
Damn it Leo.  Yes, I do.
Leo reminds me that it is my second in two hours.
I sit there chewing on the bar.
I’m savoring the chocolate chips.
What kind of healthy bar has chocolate chips? Apparently the kind I eat. 
I chew slowly, savoring the chocolate and chemical additives.
I feel a high coming on.
These healthy bars really work.

Debate goes on.
I’m now agitated.
I’ve given my charges time to work this out.
I don’t have a solve but need to find an exit strategy.
And fast.

Excuse me.
The Group continues to talk over me.

A Senior team member asks me if he can finish his thought.
He goes on. And on.
The Group listens.
It gets very quiet as he elaborates on his solution.
He pauses.
One, and then another and a third are excited about the idea.
There’s a cheer from the group.
The call ends.

I look down at my hands to find chocolate chip smudge on my fingers.
On both hands.
And think.
I’m sure that cheer was for me…for guiding the group to the answer.

You and Churchill.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

~ Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

Image Credit


  1. this is sooo good……i’ve been this meeting……hundreds of them!


  2. oops…i meant, i’ve been to this meeting!


  3. “I think about what body parts cannibals start on first. Toes? Fingers? Or the fatty tissue around belly?” – David! OMG, you and your thoughts…and all the way down to “I look down at my hands to find chocolate chip smudge on my fingers. On both hands.” You are so funny! Lol!!!


  4. I love this – great story!


  5. Oh brother! You’re right .. some sort of high going on.


  6. Maybe it was drifting because you were quiet and they forgot you were there. When you chipped in it reminded them to get a grip, and lo and behold they sorted it.

    So there’s your new conf call strategy: kick off the discussion, shut up for 30 minutes, eat a granola bar or two, then say “Excuse me” and you’ll be done. I’d say you’ll have earnt every penny of your salary on that call! You were the referee in the game of football: you made sure they played football, and when they started playing tennis you blew the whistle! Masterful.


  7. Loved this, DK. These “internal monologues” are my favorite–gives us a “peek behind the curtain.” 😉


  8. Great story Dave! I can’t believe you held back! Smudge on my fingers, funny


  9. WLS…I’m sure many of your readers identify with the protracted call and the internal conversations that take place while monologues go on interminably. The residual chocolate on your fingers? It’s for the 4PM snack time.


  10. Oh those infernal calls! So long .. so unproductive … so …. unnecessary!

    Great piece! MJ


  11. had a meeting last night and only three of the seven on the committee showed up–decision making was so much easier


  12. i loved this david, and know the pain of these kinds of interactions. hardest thing in the world is to let people work out their own stuff without jumping in to solve it. takes a lot more discipline to sit back. really hard when stuck in the middle of a drone session though.

    just a dark thought, but if you had opted for the cuticle/nail option it may have actually sustained you a bit longer, and kept your blood sugar level, as they are in the protein category, rather than the carb family. perhaps the cannibals were the original creators of the atkins/south beach diets.


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